Monday with Pessoa: I, I, I

Mark Kerstetter, Self Portrait as Lee Teich

Mark Kerstetter, Self Portrait as Lee Teich

Countless Lives Inhabit Us by Fernando Pessoa, as Ricardo Reis

And then there’s this stanza, from Pessoa’s I Don’t Know How Many Souls I Have:

Attentive to what I am and see,
I become them and stop being I.
Each of my dreams and each desire
Belongs to whoever had it, not me.
I am my own landscape,
I watch myself journey –
Various, mobile, and alone.
Here where I am I can’t feel myself.

translations by Richard Zenith, from Fernando Pessoa & Co. (Grove Press, 1998)


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10 Responses to Monday with Pessoa: I, I, I

  1. newleafsite says:

    Mark, you have a wonderful reading voice. It’s always such a pleasure to listen to you read! And, as for Pessoa, the exploration of his characters (self?) continues to grow in interest. I enjoy that you didn’t begin the comments on this stanza – the quiet allows space for contemplation. — Elizabeth

  2. What a wonderful poem by Mr. Pessoa… At once I drown within the pleasure of such telling and recognizable experience relayed so perfectly. This poem immediately strikes relativity in life, our need to conform – erasing ourselves bit by bit in an eagerness to please until there is now “we” left. There’s definitely that. But also there is an envelope of sadness, jealousy on my part, I presume, that I myself may never be able to take such an intimately held part of the human experience and relay it so wonderfully with words. You have a very good eye for mastery in writing Mark… Thank you for sharing this.

    • John, you’ve put your finger on one of the most perturbing things about Mr. Pessoa (“erasing ourselves”). Rather than reply at length here, I’d rather address the issue in one of the Monday posts. I’ll just mention that I’m often reminded of a phrase from the poet Mark Strand: “Wherever I am, I am what is missing.”

  3. Susan Scheid says:

    Mark: Your reading is as always powerful and deeply felt. And the poem, ah! First the gift of Ashbery, and now the gift of Pessoa. I am reminded, by these poems, of Ashbery’s shifting pronouns. I’m not aware of a connection between the two, but surely there must be one?

    I am merely the place
    Where things are thought or felt.

    Fascinating, elusive, and, above all, true.

    • I don’t know of Ashbery having mentioned Pessoa. But, yes, I see a similar locus of concerns over those shifting metaphors. While Pessoa invented specific entities – the heteronyms – Ashbery does not tell the reader who is speaking at any given time. In a sense one might say Ashbery is conducting a higher calculus of the shifting self, or at least is operating at a time when such a condition has become the norm.

  4. angela says:

    You’ve made me run and grab my copy of P & Co, Mark…Reis is perhaps my fave (perhaps because he is brief, and a bit like reading a koan).

    Enjoying the dialogue above – made me think of a glimpse of my outer shell while biking home tonight in the cold wondering was it me experiencing the cold, turning the crank, or was it that glimpse that is only part reality (imagine a blink of seeing dimensions) … I digress and offer this one, “What we feel, not what is felt”

    What we feel, not what is felt,
    Is what we have. Winter naturally straitens.
    Like fate we accept it.
    May winter wrap earth and not our minds,
    As love to love, or book to book, we relish
    Our brief warm fire.
    (R. Reis, 8 July 1930)

    thank you – enjoyed a reason to read several of his passages…again ~

    • I in turn went back and read some of the Reis poems. You glimpsing your outer shell is a fascinating portrait. I’ve had that strange sensation many times. Self-awareness results in many kinds of sensations – another subject for a Pessoa Monday, perhaps.

      btw, I ride my bike 4 days a week, every week. And I always take the same route. It’s a way to exercise while meditating.

      • angela says:

        I, too, take the same route most days, but play music to keep me rolling – I need to turn it off and do a bit of mediating – I’ve been told recently by a guru that there is quite a bit wrong with me…

        as an aside – wondering if Lou Reed shall replace Pessoa tomorrow…sad day ~

        • You were right about Lou Reed. You’ll see how much I value self-examination. But I hope your guru is a good one, and whatever you find “wrong” please remember there’s a whole lot right about you.

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